Despite confusing locals when they arrived in the late ‘80s, Nanna Hot Bake’s glossy buns are now a Central Market staple.
Amid overflowing souvenir and jewellery shops in the breezeway connecting Central Market Plaza and Moonta Street, there’s an often-fogged-up cabinet teeming with warm, glossy buns. The above sign – “Nanna Hot Bake” – says it all.
Nanna (aka Pooi Ying Lam) migrated from Seremban in Malaysia to Australia in the mid-‘80s. She took over Nanna Hot Bake from her sister, who had been running it for a year, in the late ‘80s.
Nearly 30 years later, she works part-time. “She can’t stay away!,” quips someone from behind the oven. When The Adelaide Review visits, Nanna’s just left after an early morning. Her son Robin and his wife Meta – “the second generation” – hold down the fort.
Nanna Hot Bake is indisputably a Central Market institution. But, in the late ‘80s, passers-by took a bit of convincing. “The locals weren’t really sure what it was all about,” says Meta. “[My mother-in-law] had to do a lot of samples to make sure it suited the locals’ tastebuds. But after not too long people cottoned on.”
Around 2:30am – while most of us sleep – the oven (and team) fires up. At 9am there’s still a handful of people working busily in the pint-sized open kitchen. We’re surprised to learn it churns out between 500 and 2000 buns daily.
“The buns themselves are definitely brioche style, but maybe a little bit sweeter than the traditional brioche you’d find elsewhere,” Meta says.
The cabinet is lined by 22 variations – listed on the menu under sweet, savoury and spicy. “A lot of [the menu] has stayed the same since day one,” says Meta. And rightly so.
Any Nanna Hot Bake diehard will make a beeline for the custard polo. “It’s our take on vanilla custard in brioche with a cookie on top … a play on textures,” says Meta. “The reason we call it ‘polo’ is because in Cantonese it means pineapple and the shape of the bun is kind of reminiscent of a pineapple.”
On the savoury front, “people can’t get enough of the beef curry puffs,” Meta says. The same can be said of the brioche-enveloped hotdog, especially if you ask anyone under 12.
The best part? The prices. In most cases, you can grab a savoury and sweet bun for a fiver.
Wholesale is a big part of the team’s early-morning call time too. Beyond the Market, Nanna Hot Bake’s unfilled brioche buns become sliders at a number of Simon Kardachi’s restaurants including Press* Food & Wine and The Pot by Emma McCaskill, as well as at North Adelaide burger joint Chuck Wagon 175.
During our visit, Meta excuses herself a few times to serve regular customers. She knows their faces and their orders almost instantly.
“I think it’s the fact it’s a family-run business,” she says of Nanna Hot Bake’s long-enduring success. “We’re familiar faces. At the front, it’s always myself, my husband, my in-laws. And not many people can say they’ve been here for as long as we have.”
Asked how Nanna Hot Bake stacks up against the surrounding, often-mass-produced competition, Meta says, with a cheeky smile: “We do it better.”
Photography: Tomas Telegramma